Asia boasts the most populous country in the world (China), the largest democracy in the world (India), and the world's largest archipelago and Muslim-populated nation (Indonesia). Its extremes of wealth and poverty — both within certain countries and between countries — have been the subject of countless articles, policy papers, and documentaries. And its growing importance as an engine of the global economy has generated both admiration and concern in economic and foreign policy circles.
Before September 11, 2001, however, it registered little on the consciousness of an America that had grown prosperous and self-absorbed during the boom years of the '90s. The attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon changed that, as did a series of events that followed: the military campaign in Afghanistan to oust the Taliban and hunt down the leaders of al Qaeda; the escalating confrontation between India and Pakistan over Kashmir in the spring of 2002; the spread of the SARS virus in early 2003; and the continuing nuclear brinksmanship of North Korea.
In February, Philanthropy News Digest spoke with Asia Foundation president William P. Fuller about recent developments in the region, including the standoff between the United States and North Korea over the North's revived nuclear program, the reconstruction of Afghanistan, the prospects for democracy in Pakistan, and the impact of 9/11 on the region as a whole.
Fuller has been president of the Asia Foundation since 1989. Before joining the organization, he served from 1987 to 1989 as deputy assistant administrator of USAID, with responsibility for U.S. foreign assistance in the Near East and Europe, and prior to that was director, from 1981 to 1987, of the USAID mission in Indonesia.
From 1971 to 1981, Dr. Fuller served with the Ford Foundation in Asia, first as an advisor to the National Education Commission and Ministry of Education in Thailand and subsequently as representative for Bangladesh. He has also worked with the World Bank in Paris; with UNICEF in Beirut, Cairo, and New York; and as a visiting lecturer at the University of Chicago.
Fuller was vice chairman of the board of Winrock International, a nonprofit organization that works around the world to increase economic opportunity, sustain natural resources, and protect the environment, from 1995 to 1999 and chaired the organization from 1999 to 2001. He is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations and sits on the boards of the World Affairs Council of Northern California, the Institute for the Future, the Bank of the Orient, and the Japan Society of Northern California.
Dr. Fuller has been a recipient of the President's Meritorious Service Award (twice), USAID's Distinguished Honor Prize, and South Korea's Hueng-in Jang Medal for Diplomatic Service. A graduate of Stanford University, where he also earned his M.A. and Ph.D., he received the Asia Pacific Leadership Award from the University of San Francisco in 2002.
Philanthropy News Digest: You recently returned from a visit to South Korea. How serious is the situation on the Korean peninsula?
William Fuller: It's very serious. It is unclear whether the North intends to use its nuclear program as a trading card to obtain more foreign assistance and/or some kind of security understanding with the United States. Or, alternatively, whether the revival of its nuclear program really represents the North's intention to join the nuclear club. If it is the latter, you can imagine the implications. Everybody is concerned about the possibility of the North selling fissile material to other countries or terrorist groups. Unfortunately, given the terrible condition of the North Korean economy, that is a distinct possibility and we have to be concerned about desperate acts being committed by a regime that increasingly feels as if its back is against the wall. I also worry about the effect that such an act would have on other countries in the region — South Korea and Japan, for example, both of whom may feel compelled to become nuclear powers themselves — and what that would mean for the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Finally, I think it is important to recognize that the situation on the peninsula is creating a wedge between the United States and South Korea, as well as between the United States and Japan and the United States and China — all of which, at least at this point, have articulated a different approach to defusing the situation.
So, for all those reasons, I worry about the situation on the Korean peninsula. And I will repeat what I said initially, which is that North Korea's intentions are still very unclear, and the assumptions in South Korea about the North's intentions seem to be different than those articulated by some members of the U.S. administration
PND: It seems as if one way to gauge the intentions of the North would be to sit down and talk to them. Why has the Bush administration been unwilling to engage in direct bilateral talks with the government in Pyongyang?
WF: For a couple of reasons. One is the administration's concern that direct bilateral talks with the North would be viewed by others as rewarding blackmail. Second, the U.S. has always argued that the situation on the Korean peninsula is a problem that needs to be solved multilaterally — quite a different view than the one held by South Korea. South Koreans very much want the United States to deal directly with the North, partly because they believe the U.S. is the only country that can help defuse the situation, and partly because the North wants bilateral negotiations with the U.S. Having said that, I think the administration will, at some point, sit down and talk with the government in Pyongyang. In fact, I believe there are creative efforts under way to find a forum with some multilateral dimensions to it that would satisfy both the North, which hasn't wanted multilateral talks, and the U.S.
PND: If the U.S. continues to insist on a multilateral framework, will other regional powers — South Korea, Japan, China, and Russia — be willing to sit down with the North?
WF: Yes, I think so. In fact, I believe China has offered to help put something together.
PND: Has anti-American sentiment in South Korea grown as the crisis has intensified?
WF: I haven't seen poll results recently, but polls from a few weeks ago certainly indicated that it is alive and well with respect to feelings about the U.S. government. The point to remember, however, is that anti-American sentiment in South Korea is not merely a reflection of U.S. handling of the North — although that's certainly an ingredient — it is also a reflection of the belief held by many young, well-informed people in the South that the U.S. has not been responsive to their country's interests.
But there are other reasons for the anti-American sentiment in the South, including the presence of 37,000 U.S. troops, which has been a cause for student demonstrations. And there have been some unfortunate episodes involving American military personnel, including one in which two young girls were accidentally killed.
The final point to remember is that South Korea's new president, Roh Moo-hyun, whom I met in Seoul in late February, was elected partly on the basis of a platform that called for a more equal partnership with the United States. While the nature of that partnership has not been defined specifically by the new Korean administration, I think the implication is that there is a desire for more consultation between the two countries, particularly on major issues.
PND: In terms of a resolution of the situation, is it possible for the U.S. and its allies in the region to get what they want through diplomacy?
|"...[In terms of North Korea] I don't know what the red lines are right now, and I don't think the North Koreans know what they are, either...."|
WF: Frankly, I'm not sure at this point. As I said earlier, it is hard to gauge the North's intentions. Under the agreed-upon framework that the Clinton administration negotiated with the North in 1994, a so-called red line involving the reprocessing of spent fuel rods by the North was established, and implicit in that agreement was an understanding that if the North crossed that line, it could face a U.S. military response. But I don't know what the red lines are right now, and I don't think the North Koreans know what they are, either.
The best-case scenario is that discussions with the North begin and, through negotiation, a deal is reached whereby the North agreed to freeze or dismantle its nuclear program and accepted an extensive verification regime in return for aid and assistance from the international community. As I said, the important question is whether the North's goal is to join the nuclear club. Some have argued that the North may be thinking of the development of nuclear weapons as a means to deter regime change and provide a measure of security. They're also uncertain about the extent to which the military in North Korea has gained strength in recent years. Of course, nobody knows the answer to that question. But it could affect how the negotiations play out. Either way, I think we should all hope there will be a successful negotiated settlement to the crisis.
PND: In recent months, the Bush administration has unveiled a new and, some would argue, radical re-thinking of America's role as the world's sole superpower. The administration launched the war on terrorism, in part, as a result of that re-imagining and has suggested that, going forward, it reserves the right to strike preemptively against countries that pose a threat to American interests and security. Beyond the obvious case of Afghanistan, how has the war on terrorism changed the geopolitical situation in the Asia-Pacific region?
WF: The U.S. position on preemptive strikes was a real issue in the discussions we had in Seoul in February. It raises important questions about U.S. leadership and intentions, the future of multilateralism, the role of the United Nations, the issue of who determines when and which countries are violating agreements or moving in unacceptable directions, and so on. It's also a topic that has contributed to some of the anti-U.S. sentiment I talked about earlier. In Asia, it is not uncommon to hear the U.S. criticized as arrogant and unilateral, and the preemptive-strike policy reinforces those perceptions.
In terms of geopolitical changes in the region post-9/11, I think they've been dramatic. Look at what has happened to the U.S. relationship with China. Prior to 9/11, concerns about China revolved around its emergence as a tough competitor on the global economic stage and human rights issues. But since 9/11, those concerns have been subordinated to the issue of terrorism and how the Chinese and Americans can work together on the problem. That's quite a change.
Or consider the new attention being given to countries like Indonesia and the Philippines. Prior to 9/11, the U.S. government's aid program to Indonesia was expected to shrink; now it's one of our biggest. Similarly, I think our relations with Mr. Putin and Russia have been put on a better footing since 9/11, and we have new relationships with countries in Central Asia like Uzbekistan that would have been unimaginable a few years ago.
I think 9/11 and the American response to it has also created new pressures on fragile regimes in some parts of the region, for example Indonesia. Elected leaders like President Megawati have to walk a fine line between the domestic pressure from mainly Islamic groups on the one hand and the United States' insistence that her government cooperate in the war on terrorism on the other. That said, the terrible Bali bombing has proven to be a wake-up call for Indonesia's population and has resulted in greater public support for the Indonesian government's efforts to deal with suspected terrorist groups. It's also a reason why moderate voices in Indonesia are increasingly able to command the attention of the Indonesian media.
PND: Do the relationships you've described have the potential to be something more than marriages of convenience? By that, I mean are closer ties between the U.S. and its new friends in Asia based solely on military and security arrangements, or can we expect to see an era of improved relations that results in increased development aid and civil-society assistance for those countries?
WF: Certainly there have been offers of more assistance to countries like Indonesia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the Philippines. But whether these are and will continue to be marriages of convenience, as you say, or in fact could lead to more substantial relationships over the long term remains to be seen. Preventing terrorism, however, is clearly a long-term proposition that will require sustained support and cooperative relations between the U.S. and many countries in the region.
PND: Well, let's talk about one of those countries. Has the United States kept the promises it made to the people of Afghanistan?
|"...I think the Afghan people would say no, that much of the aid that was promised to them has yet to materialize...."|
WF: I don't know the answer to that question. I think the Afghans would say no, that much of the aid that was promised at the meeting in Tokyo in February a year ago has yet to materialize. I think the aid will materialize eventually, but it is coming more slowly than the Karzai government had anticipated. Part of the reason for the delay reflects the fact that most of the governments and aid organizations involved in the effort are still concerned about security inside Afghanistan, as well as the capacity of local entities to make good use of aid. Generally, however, I think the international community is committed to Afghanistan, and the people I talk with in the U.S. government believe that the reconstruction of the country is a long-term project to which they're committed, regardless of what happens in Iraq.
PND: Is reconstruction of Afghanistan an American show at this point?
WF: No, there, there are several other countries involved — Japan, Britain, Turkey, the Netherlands, and Germany among them — and that's encouraging. You also have the United Nations Development Program, the World Food Program, UNICEF, and a number of large NGOs like World Vision, Save the Children, and others, including the Asia Foundation.
PND: Your organization reestablished its office in Kabul in 2002 after a 23-year hiatus prompted by the Soviet invasion of the country in 1979. What is the Asia Foundation doing to help the Afghan people deal with the tremendous challenges they face?
WF: Our primary focus has been to help Afghanistan rebuild some of the institutions that were compromised or damaged by twenty years of civil war and an oppressive regime. We were active, for example, in supporting the loya jirga process that resulted in the election of Hamid Karzai as interim president. In fact, we brought twenty-seven monitors from all over the world who were fluent in either Dari and Pashto to Afghanistan to ensure that the process moved forward in accordance with the Bonn agreement.
Following the loya jirga, the Asia Foundation was asked to help with the development of a new constitution and judicial system. At the moment, we are providing technical support — again, using specialists from different countries around the world — to the Constitutional Commission as it tries to reconcile the agendas of various interests in the process. Ultimately, of course, there will be another loya jirga, which will review the proposals from the commission and reach a decision about them. It's a tough go, because the constitutional discussion clearly highlights all the different competing interests in Afghanistan — the warlords, the government in Kabul, the various provincial authorities, different ethnic and religious groups. But the process is moving along and should continue to do so provided security does not deteriorate.
Beyond supporting the development of the constitution, the Asia Foundation is working to help girls who were denied educational opportunities during the Taliban period. To that end, we have joined forces with the National Geographic Society to establish a school in Kabul that serves young women, and we are looking at possibilities of expanding remedial education programs.
We're also considering a request from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which asked for help in obtaining advice and assistance as they plan a foreign service training program. As you know, Afghanistan is located in a rough neighborhood, and skilled diplomacy and an excellent grasp of international affairs are going to be critical for the government going forward.
PND: One important factor in the successful reconstruction of Afghanistan would seem to be the stability of its neighbor, Pakistan. What are the prospects for the return of democracy and civilian rule in Pakistan?
WF: My own view is that the possibility of increased instability in Pakistan remains relatively high, and that the prospects for a return to some form of democratic rule, at least in the short term, are not promising. The situation is complex.
First of all, efforts to curb extremism in the country have pitted Pakistan's president, General Musharraf, against a number of powerful domestic constituencies. You are no doubt aware that the elections called by Musharraf last October led to significant showings by some of the Muslim opposition parties — a development that was greeted with surprise by many observers in the West. The upshot is that General Musharraf has to balance his role as an ally of the United States in the war on terrorism with certain concessions to those opposition groups. And that is going to be an increasingly hard act to pull off as the war on terrorism unfolds and the search for terrorists in Pakistan continues.
Second, democracy in Pakistan is what I would call a procedural democracy, at best, in the sense that there is a National Assembly, provincial parliaments, and elections. But in many parts of the country, clan and tribal relationships still determine to a large degree how people vote. So the notion that Pakistan had, or has, a wide-open democratic system is mistaken.
Havng said that, the Asia Foundation currently is involved in helping the new members of the provincial parliaments and the National Assembly to become familiar with the duties and responsibilities of a parliamentarian, including, among other things, the importance of being respectful of members of the opposition, following parliamentary procedures, participating in committees and budget processes, and so on. And I am pleased to say that even in the provinces, including the rugged Northwest Frontier Province, that effort is proceeding.
At the same time, Pakistan is confronting a constitutional crisis. Last fall, President Musharraf issued a Legal Framework Order that, in addition to allowing the general to remain as president and head of the army for five more years, also granted him constitutional power to dismiss the prime minister and dissolve the National Assembly at his discretion. Not surprisingly, the opposition groups were upset by the order, and even some of his supporters were concerned. My view is that while the war on terrorism is front-page news, Musharraf's friends and supporters will cut him some slack with respect to these powers. But over time that support will wane, and if some of the more conservative opposition parties start to get out of hand and President Musharraf responds by actually dismissing the prime minister or dissolving the parliament, then you could see a real public outcry, or worse.
PND: What, if anything, can the international NGO community do to blunt the hostility of the mullahs and promote more moderate, secular elements in Pakistani society?
WF: NGOs can play an important role in helping to curb extremism by providing good education, health and other services, by providing knowledge and skills related to human rights, and by supporting efforts to mediate conflict and to open up economic opportunities, in turn creating jobs. Also, NGOs can help by indirectly strengthening government and political processes through advocacy, watchdog organizations, and even, when conditions permit, by making use of the political system to advance their own interests.
|"...We need to be careful about establishing a dividing line between Islam and tolerant, secular elements in society. They are not mutually exclusive...."|
But we need to be careful about establishing a dividing line between Islam and tolerant, secular elements in society. They are not mutually exclusive. The vast majority of Muslims are tolerant and secular. NGOs can help by providing a forum for those with different views — for example, facilitating an exploration of the relationship of Islam and democracy, or Islam and secular political administration, or Islam and the rights of women.
Finally, I believe that international NGOs will need to further refine their understanding of Islamic traditions to be effective in supporting tolerance and curbing extremism. Take shari'a, or divine law, in Islamic societies, something that is often viewed as shorthand for intolerance in the West. Yet if you ask a Muslim whether he or she favors shari'a, you are in effect asking whether he or she is a believer. Therefore, it's not surprising that broad-gauged surveys show that shari'a is strongly supported in Muslim countries. The issue is not shari'a per se, but what constitutes shari'a, who interprets it, and who enforces it.
PND: Is Islam incompatible with democracy?
WF: No. The Asia Foundation has been involved in programs that have encouraged debate on this topic, and we have supported groups that are examining a range of issues affecting Islam and civil society in countries like Indonesia and Pakistan. There are groups in Indonesia, for example, that are working with state-sponsored Islamic universities on a curriculum that promotes tolerance, secularism, and democracy.
However, there is substantial debate within the Islamic community around this question, and it's going to take time for that debate to play out. But as Turkey, parts of India, and the movement toward democracy in Indonesia illustrate, Islam as a faith is not, in my view, inherently anti-democratic.
PND: Do you agree with New York Times columnist Tom Friedman's view that globalization has replaced the Cold War as the defining framework of the new world order? And if so, do you see the rise of international terrorism as a response to globalization and the disruptive socioeconomic changes that often follow in its wake?
WF: I'm not sure — I suppose it depends on the level of abstraction we're talking about. There's been some interesting work done on the extent of global trade in the decades leading up to the First World War, which was, of course, substantial. There were fewer players in the game, but the variety and volume of exchange was substantial.
Fast-forward to today and you see government, civil-society, and private-sector leaders around the globe trying to figure out what this new wave of globalization means for their countries. One of the interesting aspects of the debate is the notion that globalization creates winners and losers, which, in turn, has raised questions about social safety nets, the environment, and legal and regulatory systems. The challenge for all of us is to understand the pros and cons of globalization, what it means in terms of who wins and loses, and what policy adjustments need to be made in order to give developing countries improved access to a more level playing field.
PND: What role can NGOs and the private sector play vis-a-vis globalization and its discontents?
WF: There are several. For starters, think tanks, academic institutions, and NGOs can do impartial assessments of who's winning and who's losing. They can serve as advocates for those who aren't part of the system or are competing on an uneven playing field. They can provide technical support.
Another interesting question is the extent to which NGOs can play a role in curbing extremism. Globalization has encouraged more open political systems around the world, which, in turn, have created more space for all kinds of political groups, including fringe and extremist groups. How do you deal with that in a globalizing society? More effective government is part of the answer. Obviously, police and military forces have responsibilities, too. But to curb and prevent extremism longer term, local NGOs have to play a role. I was reminded of that on a recent visit to Indonesia when I met with leaders of the country's largest Muslim organizations and one of those leaders made what I thought was a compelling point. "In your country," he said, "you're concerned about homeland security, you're concerned about sharing intelligence information related to terrorism. But in the end, real prevention is going to be done by local organizations, by NGOs, whether they're providing microfinance services to individuals, or are focused on human rights, or are working in the areas of agriculture or health. Those are the organizations that are winning the hearts and minds of Indonesians and, in the process, creating a less welcoming environment for extremists."
I was reminded of that comment thinking about Bangladesh, where there are three NGOs that reach something like eighty-five percent of the villages. While we see substantial extremist activity in Pakistan and Indonesia, there is relatively little of it in Bangladesh. And one reason is because the local NGO community, supported for many years by international NGOs, has been so effective in delivering services and protecting the rights of villagers throughout the country.
PND: Do you think the philanthropic community in the U.S. has done a good job of mobilizing its resources to meet the challenges of an increasingly interdependent world?
WF: Many people incorrectly assume that the level of private giving in the U.S. for international causes is relatively insignificant. That's not true. Actually, it's about fifty percent more than the level of U.S. government foreign aid. USAID reports that official development assistance and other government aid was $22.6 billion in 2000, while private flows were $33.6 billion.
My view is that more funding should be directed to long-term institution building at the local level for a range of activities, including education, health, micro-credit and small enterprise development, and improved agricultural systems.
I also think more attention should be paid to creating and strengthening mechanisms for dispute and conflict resolution. The Asia Foundation has done some interesting work in this area. In Sri Lanka, for example, there are costs associated with using the judicial system, particularly for rural families. If they have a petty claim — the theft of a cow or a land dispute — and wind up in civil court, they can end up litigating it for years, at considerable personal cost. In response, we decided to fund an experiment with mediation boards. There isn't a lawyer in sight and cases are dealt with in a day or two by mediators — school teachers, religious leaders, and trusted citizens. Local mediation boards now handle more than a hundred thousand cases a year in Sri Lanka.
I also think the philanthropic sector could do more to fund and support student exchanges, which enable young people from developing countries to come to the United States and Americans to go abroad for long-term graduate training. All societies are becoming more complex, and we need to invest in deeper understanding of the implications of that trend.
Those are a few examples of what I'd call content areas. I also think we have what I would call "style" or approach problems, although I think we have improved in that regard in recent years. But there's room for improvement. We need, for example, to listen to a wide range of people from all walks of life, not just municipal officials or government functionaries in the capital city. We need to do a better job of seeing problems as the people who wrestle with these problems on a daily basis see them, rather than sort of rushing in with a predetermined blueprint for change.
|"...It is important for the philanthropic sector to understand that in order to be creative in dealing with social and economic problems, it has to be more willing to accept failure...."|
A final point I would make is that because we are all accountable for the funding we receive and because, sometimes, we are inordinately concerned about failure, it is important for the philanthropic sector to understand that in order to be creative in dealing with social and economic problems, it has to be more willing to accept failure.
PND: The Asia Foundation will celebrate its fiftieth anniversary in 2004. Are you planning any changes in your programs or approaches to mark the anniversary?
WF: I think we're focused on the right set of issues — governance, law, and civil society; economic reform and development; women's participation; and international relations. In an organization like ours, however, we always look to the future, and there are some new issues that we'll probably give more attention to.
I mentioned one of them, which is focusing more on programs that help build tolerance — not just interfaith dialogue, but programs that bring representatives of different faith-based groups together to work on community problems. In Indonesia in 1999, for example, we supported the efforts of more than twenty faith-based groups, both Muslim and Catholic, to disseminate nonpartisan voter information to the public, and eventually those groups were able to reach more than a hundred million Indonesian voters. When I met with representatives of the various group at the end of the process, one of them looked at me said, "You know, we actually did something that was good for the country." It was an epiphany of sorts.
We also plan to pay more attention to mechanisms for dispute and conflict resolution. While most societies around the globe are becoming more open politically, many simply lack institutions that can effectively mediate political differences and conflict. In the U.S., of course, we have checks and balances and mediating institutions. But in countries like Indonesia, the parliament and legal institutions are relatively weak. So there's a real need for mechanisms that can help communities mediate their differences without resorting to violence.
PND: Will you continue to promote development assistance at the nexus of Islam and civil society, despite the concerns of some in the human rights community that such work should be secular and not faith-based?
WF: Absolutely. One of the reasons I like the Indonesian example I used earlier is that it focuses on interfaith work. That's key. So the answer is yes, we're going to continue to be supportive of groups that are working for tolerance, for democracy, for the rule of law, wherever and whomever they might be.
PND: You've announced that, after fifteen years, you plan to step down as president of the Asia Foundation in early 2004. Why are you leaving at this particular point in time, and what do you plan to do next?
WF: While I look forward to a little more personal time, I would like to do some analysis and writing, focusing on the development field and how it has changed as well as where it is headed. I've been in this arena for forty years, and I'm particularly interested in some of the challenges that lie ahead, many of which are related to civil society and governance, to poverty and economic growth, to widening income gaps, to hopelessness and despair. After careful consideration, I concluded that the time has come to begin the process to ensure a good search for a successor and an orderly transition.
But I plan to continue my involvement as the Asia Foundation celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2004. And I remain very committed and want to stay involved in the issues confronting Asia. It would be exhilarating, for instance, if I could find a way to help mentor young people who are interested in philanthropy and development assistance. We need more young people in the field, and in philanthropy in general, and I'd like to find a vehicle to do that.
PND: Can you say a few words about the accomplishments of the Asia Foundation during your tenure?
WF: I think we have managed to establish a good, clear set of directions for the organization, and I think we've done a good job in our grantmaking program areas. Our highest priorities are institution building and supporting those with creative approaches to problems. I'm pleased that we have been able to strengthen our program in China and that we now have offices in Hong Kong and Beijing. We've also established a presence in Vietnam, as well as a presence in Mongolia. We've even managed, through exchange programs and a book-provision program, to have some involvement with North Korea for the last eleven years.
I'm also pleased that we've been able to diversify our funding base, although we have a ways to go. We created a successful new donor-advised instrument for philanthropy in the region called Give2Asia. In addition, we established a joint venture, the Asia Foundation in Taiwan, in 1997, and we launched the Asia-Pacific Philanthropy Consortium in 1994 to focus on problems that need to be resolved in order to move philanthropy forward in the Asia-Pacific region.
Because of our on-the-ground presence in the region, we are also becoming more engaged in providing insights through our grantees and field representatives to people in the policy community. We tend to see countries and organizations bottom up, rather than top down, and that often provides different insights into how a country and its institutions are developing.
However, the greatest sense of achievement is derived from the impact of the programs themselves. For example, I mentioned the June 1999 election in Indonesia. Learning that a group we had supported was able to disseminate information to a hundred million people and trained over a hundred thousand election monitors, or seeing legal aid in China develop, or meeting a young Cambodian woman from a poor rural family who was benefiting from an Asia Foundation scholarship program, or providing technical resources that helped the Mongolians draft their constitution — those are the kinds of things that really give you a sense of accomplishment.
The last thing I'd mention is how impressed I've been with our staff. As I've told them, it is a remarkable staff, both in terms of country knowledge and substantive knowledge in our program areas.
PND: The last fifty years have brought incredible change to the Asia-Pacific region, good and bad. Looking ahead to the next fifty years, are you optimistic about the future of the region?
WF: When you're in the development business, you are, by definition, in the business of optimism. Otherwise, you wouldn't be in the business. And what we and many others are trying to do is to support the development of good leaders and good institutions that are committed to finding creative solutions to tomorrow's problems.
Now, since 9/11, the United States has spent a lot of time, energy, and money on preventing additional acts of terrorism on Amercan soil. Ultimately, however, long-term prevention, both at home and abroad, is going to require a broad and sustained effort on many fronts, and that's where organizations like ours can play a role. But yes, I'm optimistic we'll be able to manage and deal with these and other problems, and that's one reason why international philanthropy, along with official development assistance, is so important.
PND: Well, thank you for your time this afternoon. And best of luck in your future endeavors.
WF: Thanks so much.
Mitch Nauffts, PND's editorial director, interviewed William Fuller in March. For more information on the Newsmakers series, contact Mitch at email@example.com.